Butterflies usually eat nectar from flowers. Some butterflies feed from any flower, whereas some prefer specific flowers. The flowers they eat also depend on what is available in their habitat, though some butterflies migrate!

How do butterflies eat?

Butterflies can only consume liquids and cannot chew. They curl up their proboscis if they aren’t eating.

What do butterflies eat?

We know how butterflies eat, but what do butterflies eat? Well, most butterflies eat nectar from flowers. Nectar is full of sugars, which provide the energy butterflies need. Butterflies are attracted to nectar-producing plants, which often have colorful, sweet-smelling blooms to attract butterflies. Plants benefit from butterfly visits because they can help pollinate them when they fly around!

Some butterflies aren’t picky about which flowers they get their nectar from, especially butterflies like the Painted Lady. The Painted Lady has the longest migration route of any butterfly, spreading from North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia to mainland Europe, eventually reaching Britain and Ireland. This means that it feeds from flowers that grow in varied climates worldwide!

Another food source for butterflies is vegetable nectar. Vegetables also try to look attractive to butterflies, with nectar-producing flowers on their plants. Some of the veggies that do this are pumpkins, cabbage, and courgettes! Some herbs have flowers to attract butterflies, too, like parsley and fennel.

Butterflies like the huckleberry butterfly also enjoy tree sap. Trees like ash, elm, and maple trees have juice that is high in sugar, minerals, and nitrogen. These things keep butterflies healthy and give them lots of energy. However, butterflies need other creatures to expose the tree’s sap underneath the tree bark. They aren’t strong enough to do it, so other animals must do it for them!

Some butterflies can go five months without food! They do this by eating lots in autumn and then hibernating over winter. The extra food they ate was stored as fat, and their bodies slowly consumed this while in hibernation mode.

Butterflies get most of the water they need from their food, though they sometimes try to find water from other sources on sweltering days.

Butterflies with strange diets

The zebra longwing butterfly is unusual as it eats pollen on purpose! Some butterflies will accidentally eat little bits of pollen when consuming nectar. Zebra longwings have special saliva that breaks down the pollen for them to slurp up with their beak. They eat pollen to aid in the creation of a chemical that releases a poison called cyanide if they are eaten. Cyanide is a poison that is dangerous to animals and humans. These butterflies often flock together at night, so if a predator eats one, it will usually not survive enough to eat more of the butterflies.

The rare harvester butterfly eats woolly aphids, which secrete a sweet liquid called honeydew. They eat these as caterpillars and as adults. The adult butterflies have a unique short beak that allows them to collect the honeydew from the aphids. These butterflies can only be found in some swamps or woody areas in the United States.

Some butterflies also eat mushrooms or animal poo!

What do caterpillars eat?

Butterflies have a host plant on that they lay their eggs on. This plant is then used as a food source by caterpillars. Unfortunately, butterflies like the paper kite butterfly are poisonous because they use plants in the Parsonsia family as host plants, so the caterpillars and butterflies become poisonous.

Butterflies can only eat solid foods like leaves that need to be chewed when they are caterpillars. Likewise, adult butterflies can only consume liquids with their probosci’s mouth.

How can I attract butterflies to my garden?

Here are some top tips for attracting butterflies to your garden:

Homemade sugar water: You can buy butterfly nectar if you like, but it’s easy to make at home. You can make your butterfly nectar solution with just two ingredients to attract butterflies! There are many recipes online, but ideally, you need four parts water to 1 part sugar. You can use a small cup or mug to measure this out: 4 cups of water and 1 cup of sugar. You will need to boil this mixture in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved, then leave it to cool.

Other ways to feed butterflies: Consider putting overripe, mashed-up fruit like bananas, melons, oranges, and berries out for them. The softer and mushier, the better! Add some water to make it easier for the butterflies to feed. Be careful, though—other insects like wasps and flies that this lovely snack might attract! Ensure you keep the fruit far away from any windows you usually keep open.

When the weather is hot, you might also want to put a shallow dish of water with some pebbles in your garden for butterflies to land on and drink!

Add a ‘sun spot’ to your garden: Butterflies love to bask in the sun when they need rest. So try putting some large, flat stones or rocks around your garden in the sunniest spots.

Plant trees: Trees like crab apple trees, pear trees, or even cherry trees can provide lovely fruit for you and butterflies too! These trees also have beautiful blossoms. Butterflies like other trees, too, especially ones that produce sap, like oak and willow trees.

Read up on your local butterflies: While some butterflies visit places worldwide, some can only be found in specific locations. Look in books or online to find out which butterflies live in your local area and see if there are particular plants they like.

Avoid pesticides: these can be harmful to our insect friends.

Cut the grass less often: Butterflies love a slightly messy garden! They are attracted to dandelions, clovers, and long grass. If you have a big garden, consider letting a small section that you wouldn’t spend any time in grow wild. Butterflies love stinging nettles, but these are horrible if you touch them, so only allow them in your garden if it’s safe to do so.

Ivy: What do butterflies eat in Autumn? If you have any ivy growing on your house, then lucky you! Ivy is a crucial source of Autumn nectar for butterflies. In addition, many other plants will have finished flowering in September and October, so keeping some ivy around can be helpful for hungry butterflies.

Make a ‘puddling pool’: Some butterflies gather to drink the nutrient-rich water in muddy puddles. Soil and mud can be full of things like salts and amino acids that help to keep butterflies healthy. So if you mix a little dirt with some water in a pan and perhaps add a few stones, you have a butterfly puddling pool! Leave it in a shady area nearby some flowers, and keep an eye out for fluttering friends! Just keep it wet, so the butterflies have lots to drink.

What plants can help attract butterflies?

Some types of flowers are especially good at attracting butterflies. Flowers with flat, open blooms like daisies and sunflowers are ideal. They are also a beautiful addition to any garden.

A lovely buddleia is colloquially known as a ‘butterfly bush.’ It’s an easy and fast-growing shrub with blooms in lots of different colors, like pink and purple!

Other flowers that butterflies love are:

  • Bluebells
  • Primrose
  • Marigolds
  • Lavender
  • Buttercups
  • Hyacinths

Top tip: Why not try to grow veggies like cabbage, courgette, or even brussels sprouts? Butterflies love certain kinds of vegetables, especially if they have nectar-producing flowers.

What if I don’t have a garden?

If you don’t have a garden, try a window box! Picking flowers like marigolds or lavender for your window box on a patio or balcony can help to encourage wonderful winged visitors.

Choose your Reaction!